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Criticism of the Current Form of the European Integration Process

English Pages, 30. 4. 2010

Dear President Markschies, dear Professor Pernice, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is a great honor for me to speak here, at the Humboldt University, in this important series of speeches on Europe. I remember the first speech held here by the former foreign minister of Germany Joschka Fischer in the year 2000. I do remember it, in spite of the fact that his views – as is well known – differ substantially from mine. I do appreciate the possibility to present my views here and now, because the developments in Europe bother me a lot.  For me, this is not an academic topic, nor a subject of mere intellectual curiosity. It affects me personally. 

Preparing for my today’s presentation, I read most of the speeches of this series and even though I do not intend to analyze them in detail, there is one general comment I want to make.    

All of these speeches are in many respects similar. All of them go in one direction, all of them are based on the assumption that “the more of Europe, the better”, “the deeper we integrate, the more we gain”, “the more and the faster we suppress the state (and the states) in Europe in favor of the European institutions, the better for us”, etc. In other words, the ambition of all the speakers so far was to defend the project of ever-closer Europe.  The rationality behind this project, its advantages and disadvantages, its costs and benefits were not discussed. It was taken as an undisputable, although not always explicitly formulated, assumption, but it is wrong. It is not undisputed. There is no consensus about it. 

From a methodological point of view, all of these speeches have one other thing in common. They are not descriptive, they’re prescriptive or normative. They do not deal with Europe as it is but with Europe as it should be according to one or the other speaker. 

This is, however, not the way to go. We do not find ourselves at point zero, where anything is possible. Today’s Europe is not a neutral starting point for any constructivistically realizable ideal. The political, cultural and civilizatory terrain in Europe is not a tabula rasa. Today’s Europe is an extremely complicated conglomerate of historical developments, rational as well as irrational fears and prejudices, diverse – and often burdensome – historical experiences, but also fully legitimate and widely differing interests of both individuals and nations inhabiting the European continent. Moving through this “terrain” without respect to its fragility and vulnerability is an expression of certain political blindness and deafness that in itself involves great risks. 

I do have such respect. To summarize my views in a few sentences, I’d say that I want Europe that would be based on intergovernmentalism, or in other words, on a minimum of supranationalism. I want Europe that would be based on rational and friendly cooperation among equal and sovereign states. I do not want an artificially organized homeland for all Europeans. Most of all, I want to maintain the institute of citizenship, the basis of any society in which it is possible to live in freedom. This is what until now differentiated Europe most from the rest of the world. Creating a continent-wide citizenship is, however, not possible. It can exist only at the state level (or below). 

My strong views concerning these issues come from my own experiences from the communist era, in which I spent more than two thirds of my life. The communist regime also denied equality and sovereignty to the individual states. It was organized from above, not from below. It suppressed citizenship. It was based on internationalism, not on respect towards the state as the necessary and irreplaceable entity of any truly democratic political system. In many of us, this created a high level of sensitivity towards all possible symptoms of violation and erosion of freedom. It is through this experience that I look at the current European Union and see a whole range of phenomena I consider very problematic, if not dangerous. 

What I am saying now is nothing new on my part, not even here, at the Humboldt University. More than eight years ago, in January 2002, I held a speech here, at the Faculty of Economics, called The Eurodebate Today: Liberalizing the European Continent or Re-Regulating It?” [1] After having read it recently, I do not have the feeling I should change anything in it. Two years before our entry into the EU, I had said the following: “We do care about the future of Europe and of the West not less than the people living in Western Europe. But it seems to me that we understand more clearly the dangerous paradox of European unification: its belief in the possibility to preserve traditional European values when abolishing the original institutions that made victory of those values possible.” 

I was afraid already at that time that the far-reaching europeanization of fundamental aspects of our lives would lead to the loss of identity of European countries, especially the smaller ones. That is why I said that “the identity issue should not be caricatured as an obsolete, long-defeated or overcome nationalism. Identity shouldn’t be, however, mixed with culture because countries like the Czech Republic have always been European in the cultural sense of the word. If there ever was a need for some sort of cultural unification, this is happening regardless of formal EU membership.” 

I found it necessary to say that the ongoing and ever accelerating “internationalization or globalization of all kinds of human activities means nothing as regards political architecture, freedom and viable democracy, as regards the concept of political representation and of the relationship between individuals and the state.” I criticized the fact that “the Charter of Fundamental Rights contains civil, political and economic liberties, but at the same time also interventionist and welfare state privileges and entitlements which are considered fundamental rights, instead of ideology dependent forms of social policy.” All of these problems continue bothering me. They have not been solved, on the contrary. 

The time did not stop, many things happened in those years. Something changed in the reality of the world and of Europe and something in the thinking of the people in Europe. 

The European Union went through an extensive widening and deepening. The number of member countries almost doubled and the EU became much less homogenous. That had a negative impact upon its decision-making capability, which makes the proponents of ever-closer Europe more nervous than ever. It also led to a substantial increase in the transaction costs that are necessary for the functioning of the greater EU. 

Despite their tragic experience with communism and with the very unfriendly, because involuntary form of integration of Central and Eastern Europe associated with it, the new EU member states did not – to my great disappointment – play the role of the so much needed correction factor to the existing model of the European integration. Taking into account their short-term interests, they decided to follow a different path. They wanted to be “in” as soon as possible to share the short-term positive benefits of the ongoing integration process. They fully and quite carelessly overlooked its negative aspects. That is why they did not contribute to the halt or at least slowdown of the parallel process of EU deepening, the transfer of competencies to Brussels and the increasing regulation of Europe from its EU center. 

The world changed as well. Difficult and endless wars broke out in Iraq and Afghanistan and prospects of lasting peace and prosperity are not on the horizon. Islamism is on the increase. China and some other third-world countries experience an unprecedented economic growth.  The dictate of political correctness gains momentum. The ridiculous and basically untenable global warming doctrine was – until recently – uncriticizable. After the decades of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the euphoria that followed after the fall of communism, socialism or social-democratism is dominating again – with its paternalistic state, high taxes, high degree of redistribution and the ever increasing suppressions and deformations of the market. 

Another fundamental change is the fact that the citizens of the EU member states are themselves not convinced of the usefulness of the current institutional development in the EU. They see various flaws of the European integration process and begin to realize that these are not mere side effects but rather birth defects that cannot be corrected. They have noticed the undemocratic methods used to enforce an ever closer and tighter model of European integration and do not understand why it is so necessary for Europe to have a constitution at any price. They have observed the unsuccessful referenda in France, in the Netherlands and in Ireland and have seen the game that was being played with them when the European Constitution was suddenly transformed into the Lisbon Treaty. Right now, they experience the first weeks and months of the post-Lisbon model of the EU functioning that are anything but glorious and begin to ask more often than before about the sense of it all. 

I am not acquainted with all the details of the German debate on this topic, but I know it is relatively rich, with the exception of Great Britain probably the richest in Europe. Parts of it are impossible to overlook. I cannot overlook the strength and the depth of the constitutional complaint filed by a parliamentary group of the Christian Social Union against ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the quality of the German Constitutional Court’s ruling. I am familiar with the numerous articles published on this topic by the former President Roman Herzog, with the views of Peter Gauweiler, member of the Bundestag, of the former judge of the German Constitutional Court, Paul Kirchhof, as well as those of the well-known poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger who has been also speaking up on the subject.

In his recent speech in Copenhagen, Enzensberger characterized the European democratic deficit as a chronic disease that brings us back into the era of constitutional disputes of the 19th and 20th century. He sees it as a return to a pre-constitutional state, which is ideal for the governments (not for the people). [2] I myself have been using similar arguments for many years.

In their recent FAZ article called “The EU damages the idea of Europe” [3], Roman Herzog, Fritz Bolkenstein and Lüder Gerken observe that “the EU has been loosing acceptability, as it introduces more and more regulation behind the backs of its citizens.” Their suggestion is simple: “The EU member countries have to send a clear message that regulation on the EU level is acceptable only when dealing with issues which go beyond national boundaries.”

I could go on and on with similar quotations, but it is clear that there is no consensus regarding the current and the future development of the EU, even though many Eurocrats try to argue the opposite. On the contrary, critical views become louder and the existing conventional wisdom isn’t as dominant as before. It is similar to the global warming issue. Evident facts can not be concealed for too long. 

My today’s criticism – known e.g. from my speeches in the European Parliament (February 2009) [4], in the Bertelsmann Foundation here in Berlin (spring 2008) [5], in Bochum (February 2009) [6] or Passau (September 2009) [7] springs from my experience with the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty (that Hans Magnus Enzensberger aptly referred to as “constitutional surrogate”). The question is whether the Lisbon Treaty brings more democracy, freedom and prosperity into the European continent. My answer is “NO”. I have no interest in a smoother and faster EU decision-making at the expense of freedom and democracy. The fastest and smoothest functioning of society is under dictatorship, which we – hopefully – do not want. 

In a sense, we have been witnessing a very strange state of affairs. The EU political elites have – at first sight – achieved their goal. The EU has its constitution, its president and its minister of foreign affairs. It is therefore a state – even though without an official flag and an anthem. The reality is, however, different. The EU flags are nearly everywhere and the EU anthem is being played more often than before, despite the fact that they were explicitly removed from the Lisbon Treaty. At the same time, it has become clear that the functions of the president and the foreign affairs minister are merely formal and that the real power remains in the hands of the Germans and the French. The Lisbon Treaty has only added to their strength. 

I am not sure whether the people in Europe know this and especially whether this is really how they wanted it to be. I am afraid that neither is the case. It will be therefore interesting to watch their reactions to the practical consequences of the current post-Lisbon institutional framework of the EU. I expect a growth of nationalism, which is the exact contrary to the ideals pursued by political elites of the leading EU countries in their attempts to achieve an ever closer and deeper integration. It is obvious that we’ll witness a further increase in the democratic deficit and a further increase of distance between the politicians and the citizens. 

Some of this is already visible. We can observe a re-emergence of the problems of national minorities, both the “historical” ones, living in Europe for a long period of time on the territory of the neighboring countries, and the “new” ones, formed in the last decades largely through economic migration. It got a new form and energy and should not be underestimated. The elimination of state borders and the gradual transformation of Europe from the “Europe of states” to the “Europe of regions” – both on the bases of the ideology of multiculturalism – is already causing a whole range of problems. I see them in my vicinity in the behavior of various minorities that have for a long time relatively peacefully lived on the territory of the neighboring countries. The ambitions they got as a result of the deepening of the integration and of the implementation of the Schengen Agreement are impossible to overlook. The consequences of the “new” migration are similar. 

When someone in the past dared to draw attention to the social-engineering substance of multiculturalism, he or she would earn the label of a xenophobe. It is obvious that the majority of the politicians did not want that. That is why they had neglected this important issue which – as a result – got into the hands of newly formed, often very problematic political leaders. That will probably continue also in the future. We should have the courage to enter into a fundamental polemics with the ideology of multiculturalism. It is the only way to make our continent function again according to the old, tried and tested democratic rules. 

In my book “Blue Planet in Green Shackles”, devoted to the subject of global warming, I ask: “What is endangered: climate or freedom?” Now, after Lisbon, I have to ask analogically: “What is endangered in Europe?” My answer is the same: “It’s our freedom and our prosperity.” 

What to do? Is it enough to slow down the speed of the European integration process, knowing that the path that we follow is wrong? Or should we follow a different path instead? Isn’t it time to reassess the future of the European integration and return to the roots that made Europe so specific? Isn’t it time for a period of serious self-reflection – instead of its caricature that followed in the years after the French and the Dutch referenda? I’d be very much in favor of that.

Václav Klaus, Walter Hallstein Institute of European Constitutional Law, Humboldt University, Berlin, April 29, 2010; (Translation from German)

[1] Faculty of Economics, Humboldt University, January 18, 2002, www.klaus.cz/clanky/1092.

[2] Copenhagen Speech to Sonning Award, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, http://event.ku.dk/sonningprisen/prismodtagertale/.

[3] “The EU damages the idea of Europe”, FAZ, January 15, 2010.

[4] Speech to the European Parliament, Brussels, February 19, 2009; www.klaus.cz/clanky/310.

[5] “The Future of Europe: Beethoven or Schönberg, Ode to Joy or Dodecaphony?” The Bertelsmann Foundation, Berlin, April 23, 2008; www.klaus.cz/clanky/1751 (in German).

[6] “What Tells us Today about Europe’s Tomorrow?“ Bochum, February 19, 2009; www.klaus.cz/clanky/654 (in German).

[7] “Notes for Passau: Is there a Common Idea of Europe?” Passau, September 16, 2009, www.klaus.cz/clanky/1247 (in German).


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